Since the creation of Adam and Eve, the value of women in society has always been a long discussed issue for all religions and civilizations. Every prevailing society, notion and civilization has presented various opinions regarding women, and based on these opinions, valued and placed them in the society.
In this context, value of women in society has also been an issue for Muslim nations; however Islam’s true view of women has not been fully understood. It was a common belief that Islam did not grant the value that women deserved and tried to keep women out of social life. Certainly, this is not true, but merely an outcome of a prejudiced perspective.
I believe that if we look at the beginning of Islam and the value of women in numerous societies, then we can better appreciate the value given to women by Islam, by the prophet Mohammed -the supreme announcer of Islam-, and consequently by Mawlana. Therefore, I would like to shortly mention how different societies viewed women.
Women in Indian society did not have any rights in marriage, inheritance, and other formalities. In the holy book of Indians, Veda, woman is pictured as something worse than hurricane, death, poison or snakes. The father of Buddhism, Buddha, did not initially accept woman to his religion because woman was reliant on their emotions. When Buddha’s close friend Amenda asked him:
How should we treat women?
You will never look at them.” he answered.
What if we have to look at them?
Then, you will not talk to them.
What if we have to talk to them
In that case, you better keep away from them” he replied.
Amenda felt sorry for women and tried to protect them. Although Buddha hesitated at first, he finally reluctantly accepted woman to his religion due to Amenda’s insistence, but he also noted that this was very dangerous for the Buddhists. He once said to his dear friend, Amenda, “If we hadn’t accepted women into our religion, Buddhism in its purest form would live for centuries. But since women are around, I don’t think this religion will exist for too long."
Persian women, during the Sasani period, had no worth, or rights. Moreover, marriage with one’s own sister was legitimate. Women did not have any social or legal rights.
Chinese did not consider women as human. They did not even need to name women. Women were not called by their names, but by numbers like 1,2 and 3. Women were referred to as “pig” in the community.
In ancient Greece and Roman civilizations, which Westerners adore, women did not have any rights. Women were viewed merely as machines that give birth to children. Claiming that woman’s body was less aesthetic than man’s, women were not even considered as worthy of affection. Perverted love among men was very widespread. While women were busy with daily chores at their homes, men would spend all their time with young boys. They would even attend public banquets with these young boys and would never take their wives with them feeling no shame at all.
In England, women were considered to be dirty and were not allowed to touch the Bible. This ended during the period of Henry VII (1509-1547) via the verdict from the parliament, and then women were allowed to read the Bible.
Jewish family life was centered around a system where men had the ultimate authority. Jewish girls were like servants in their fathers’ houses. Fathers were allowed to sell their daughters if they wished to do so. In the Jewish law, women were regarded as damned as they were considered to be deceivers that urged evil.
Christians believed Eve to be the cause of the first sin and therefore blamed her for people’s misfortunes. For this reason, they regarded women as inferior and satanic.
Before the Prophet in the Arabian Peninsula the situation of women was dreadful. Women were not allowed to get married or establish a family. They were devoid of the inheritance law. Prostitution was widespread. Daughters were believed to be an economic burden as well as means of shame for the family. Fathers had boundless rights in the family, and it was acceptable for a father to kill his own daughter by burying her alive. (Şefik Can, Mawlana: His Life, Ideas, Personality p.189).
As summarized above, throughout history women were not given any rights and were viewed as despicable and insignificant. Before Islam, women were not considered as human; they were treated like objects, so they were bought and sold. It was Islam that saved women from this situation and gave them the value they deserved along with the rights to own property. Our Prophet in his Farewell Sermon said the following: “O People! Fear Allah in respect to women. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah's trust and with His permission. It is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women but they also have rights over you."
The holy book Quran does not make any discrimination between men and women. Men and women, both, are equally treated and addressed to follow Allah’s orders and refrain from the forbidden.
Our Prophet noted that all human beings are equal just like the teeth of a comb and defined man and woman as the halves of a whole. Therefore, according to Islam, ascendancy can only be achieved by taqwa (piety) i.e. by the awareness of one’s responsibilities to Allah.
In addition to all these, even only the following hadith can also make it possible for us to understand how Islam values women. The Prophet said “There are three things in your world that are made to attract my affection: The first one is woman, the second is pleasant scents, and the third is salat (prayers, namaz) which is the delight of my eyes.” In this very important hadith, our Prophet listed women even before salat, one of the requirements and pillars of Islam for which He says “the delight of my eyes".
I regret to say that some people are not aware of the essence of these words, which are filled with deep spiritual value. Not only, do these people misunderstand the highest value and divine meaning given to woman, they also cannot see the wisdom (hikma) and divine predestination (takdir) in Prophet’s ploygamy. Such people forget that The Prophet, who is freed of any earthly filth, is far away from humanly faults and thus incorrectly linking His words to sexuality, and they mistakenly think that He uttered these words with a humanly interest in and weakness for women. In addition, the pleasant scents He mentioned secondly were thought to be any pleasant smell such as flowers and perfumes, which is far from the real meaning.
As can be seen, Islam placed great significance on women; therefore, women gained more respect and strength in the society. Thanks to the sincerity of their belief, especially the women close to our Prophet were of great support to Him. Later on, with the hadiths they passed on, these women contributed a great deal to the spread of Islam. Moreover, it is a well-known fact that during the Prophet’s time Muslim women were actively taking part in both daily life and wars.
Sahabas and pioneering figures of Islam, especially Mawlana, who accepted as a principle the Quran’s and the Prophet’s viewpoint on women, have always set an example in granting women the value that they deserve.
Mawlana said “As long as I live, I will be the servant of and slave to Quran and be the soil underneath the Prophet Mohammed’s step.” He followed our Prophet’s divine sayings and gave great importance to the holiness in women. He expressed the high sanctity he saw in women in his Mathnawi:
"Our Prophet said: Women would prevail over the wise and those that see through their hearts. However, the ignorant would prevail over women because they are harsh and tough. Ignorant and rude men have very little kindness, courtesy and love because brutishness reigns in their nature. Love, kindness, compassion are human feelings. Anger and lust are animal feelings, they are brutish. Woman is not just a beloved of Allah. Woman is the divine light (nur) of God (Haq). She is as if not a created, but a creator.” (Şefik Can. Mathnawi Book1:2435) Those who are far from the deep meaning of these verses claim that it is just because women can give birth that Mawlana said “Woman is as if not a created, but a creator” However, those with the true understanding of the essence of this issue believe that as all female animals also can give birth, women cannot be granted this high value only due to their ability of procreation.
With the guidance and light from The Prophet, Mawlana saw the divine mystery and truth in women. He explicitly and precisely valued and exalted women all his life. Mawlana had a monogamous life; he never had a female slave even though having one was traditionally accepted at that time. Mawlana always viewed women as a very significant member of the society and had a number of female students both from aristocratic families and among ordinary people. In one of the most important sources for Mawlawi Order, Menakibu’l-Arifin by Eflaki, we read that Mawlana would go to sema (whirling of dervishes) with his female students, whirl with them and women would sprinkle petals of rose over him. These stories in the same source were generally narrated by Mawlana’s wife Kerra Hatun; the daughters of Sultan Veled, Mutahhara and Seref Hatun; Arif Celebi’s mother and Selahaddin Zerkubi’s daughter Fatima Hatun; Mawlana’s and Arif Celebi’s daughters Melike Hatuns; and many other female students of Mawlana. What we understand from this is; the women from Mawlawi families who love Mawlana would always come together with Mawlawi elders and have discourse.
Eflaki said that our Prophet guided also women. However, since guiding women was considered to be peculiar to the Prophet, none of the saints in any century spent that much of time with women until Mawlana. After our Prophet, Mawlana was the first to show great respect to women and he showed concern for them very openly. Surely enough Mawlana walked on the path of divine love with women; he did not hesitate to assign spiritual tasks to women as well as men.
In reliable sources of Mawlawi history, it is recorded that Seref Hatun, the daughter of Sultan Veled, was a spiritual teacher (murshide) to many disciples (murids). Moreover, Arefe-i Hos-lika Hatun from Konya was the Mawlawi caliph in the city of Tokat and she had numerous male disciples. Mawlana’s grandchildren followed the same path of divine love on which Mawlana walked with both men and women without any discrimination. It is documented in Mawlawi sources that just like his grandfather, Mawlana Ulu Arif Celebi would meet women, talk to them and take them to sema (whirling of dervishes) gatherings.
In 17th Century, Sakib Dede, who was a sheikh in Kutahya Mevlevihane (Mawlawi Tekke-dervish lodge) for forty years, writes the following in his work of Sefine-i Mawlawiyya which is considered to be one of the most important sources of Mawlawi history: In 1600s, after the death of Mehmet Dede, who was a sheikh in Kutahya Mevlevihane for fifty years, one of the chelebis (a title of a leader in Mawlawi order) of Konya, Junior Arif Chelebi’s daughter, Mathnawihan (position in Mawlawi order of one who has been trained and initiated the Mathnawi of Mawlana) Kamile Hanim was sent to Kutahya from Konya to be in charge of the meshiha (line of sheiks) position which was previously held by Mehmet Dede. Kamile Hanim’s daughter, Fatma Hanim served in Kutahya Mevlevihane and tried to meet the needs of all dervishes with great sincerity; therefore, she was called Ummu-l-Fukara (the mother of the needy).
According to Sefine-i Mevleviyye, during early times of Mawlawi Order there was no distinction between men and women. Women were granted caliphate. Thus, women had a more respectable position than many men who joined the order. Considering Mawlawi men and women as equals lasted until 17th century. After Shah Mehmet Chelebi, who is the grandson of Divane Mehmet Chelebi and the son of Hizirsah Chelebi, his daughter Destina Hatun was assigned to be the trustee of Afyon Karahisar Tekke; and she wore hirka (dervish’s cloak) and sikke (Mawlawi dervish’sconical headdress) just like men did (Sefine1: pp.252-3). After Destina Hatun, Junior Mehmet Chelebi, who is a descent of Divane Mehmet Celebi was the sheikh, and after his death his daughter, Gunes Han became the sheikha and the caliph. Gunes Han, who was widely respected, spent time on the education of dervishes and used to wear the sikke with turban (destar) on her head, and the Mawlawi hirka as she conducted Mawlawi Muqabele. Sources note that after Gunes Han, Gunes Hatun-i Sugra was the caliph in Afyon Dergah (dervish lodge). [Sefine 1.pgs.253.255] [Golpinarli, Mevlana’dan sonar Mevlevilik pgs.279-280] [Sezai Kucuk. Mevleviligin Son Yuz Yili pgs. 177-179] [Huseyin Top. Mevlevi Adap ve Erkani pg. 162].
In 16th. and 17th centuries Mawlawi women performed many important services such as postnishin (takka’s sheihk) and Mathnawihan. Women led the way for Mawlawis to be truly understood and to be spread even in the small villages of Anatolia. In his Mathnawi, Mawlana says,
"When woman and man become one in unity, that one is you. When the thousands that make the rituals and traditions disappear, the only one remaining is again you.” You created “I” and “we” to prove the unity and the manifestation oneness in various beings [Mathnawi 1:1786].
Mawlana does not see one as two and attributes women the highest value. We understand from these statements taken from reliable sources that in early times of Mawlawis, women were never excluded from the society. Particularly in those days, Mawlawis were spread to even the most remote villages founding Mawlawi villages and never considered women inferior to men. However, in time, responsibilities given to women diminished and today these responsibilities have almost disappeared. Mawlawi women today are stuck between questions such as “Can a woman be postnishin?” and “Can a woman be a whirling dervish?” and they are in search of an identity.
Abdulbaki Golpinarli, a very important researcher of our century on the topics of Mawlana and Mawlawis, says the following in his work called Mevlana’dan Sonra Mevlevilik (Mawlawis After Mawlana, p. 281):
"Based on the research I have done on Mawlana up until now, I believe that women also attended, especially in earlier times, the sema (whirling of dervishes) gatherings even in villages. However, due to handing Mawlawi takkes over to foundations which depend on the government and the government compromising with sheikhs, Mawlawis moved from villages to towns and then to cities, and in time Mawlawis only belonged to a group of people versus to public. All this resulted in limitations to the value and freedom given to women. Unfortunately, just like we do not come across any village mawlawihanes or Mawlawi villages since17th century, we do not come across any female Mawlawi caliphs. The Arife-i Hos-lika and Gunes Han in 17th century and female caliph that have the post (sheikh of takke) are only in the books now, and from that time on we do not encounter any female caliphs."
This is how Abdulbaki Golpinarli explains how actively serving Mawlawi women have become passive due to various reasons.
Abdulbaki Golpinarli spent all his life studying Mawlana and his works. His life was not long enough to see it, but a short while ago, one of the older Mawlawis, Sertarik Mathnawihan Sefik Can, who does not seek any self-interest and who did great significant work on this subject appointed a woman as his succeeding caliph. This is the first since 17th century. After four hundred years, for the first time, a Mawlawi woman is designated to active service.
Especially during the last times of the Ottomans, Mawlawi women who felt as if they were kept outside the door, put their feelings to words, tried to express their love and affection in poetry. Hence, in 1800s there were Mawlawi female poets that had their own Divan (collection of poems). Amongst these poets, one of the most important one is certainly Leyla Hanim, who is the niece of Kececizade Izzet Molla. Sultan Mahmut II composed one of Leyla Hanim’s poems that she wrote under the influence of Sheikh Galib. Her Divan was published several times during both the Ottoman times and after the Turkish republic was established. Leyla Hanim passed away in 1847 and is buried in Galata Mawlawihane, which is also the resting place for Sheikh Galib, whom she valued a great deal. Her words she uttered in tears when she was not let in the door of the same Mawlawihane to whirl among men made their way to present time. Those words that are integral to Leyla Hanim may surprise even today’s people.
Another very well known poem from those times is Seref Hanim. Seref Hanim, who lived between 1809 and 1861, also had her own Divan. In her divan, she not only expressed her affection to Mawlana but she also wrote several poems regarding her loved Hadrat Rufa-i. After she passed away, for the love of Hadrat Pir she is buried inYenikapi Mawlawihane.
Another Mawlawi female poet from the same century is Hatice Nakiye Hanim. Nakiye Hanim lived between the years of 1845 and 1899. She was the niece of Seref Hanim. Nakiye Hanim was a Persian language and history teacher. She would speak elegantly and was a very well educated lady. Due to her many excellent works, she was awarded with the ‘Medal of Compassion’ by Sultan Abdulhamid II. Like her aunt, she is also buried in Yenikapi Mawlawihane.
Another Mawlawi female poet is the daughter of Sadrazam Dervis Pasa, Munire Hanim. Munire Hanim lived between the years 1825-1903. She took Persian and Arabic classes. Munire Hanim was a very intellectual lady of her time, and she was the student of Osman Selahaddin Dede, one of the sheikhs at Yenikapi Mawlawihae. Her poems are mostly on tasawwuf. She is buried in Karaca Ahmet cemetery.
In 1800s Ottoman Mawlawi women reach us today through their poems. Then after the Turkish republic was founded we came across some Mawlawi women from aristocrat families in Istanbul. After 1960s, we came across academician Mawlawi women with university degree. Ottoman women expressed their love in their poems and served Mawlawis with their divans, In 1900s the Turkish Republic’s women continued contributing. Some wrote books, articles, papers and translated others’ works and others served fullheartedly esteemed Mawlawi sheikhs.
With the papers, books, articles they wrote and the translations they did, the following women contributed to the Konya Mawlana Ihtifal (Commemoration) ceremonies that started in 1950s and continued to expand in 1960s: Samiha Ayverdi, Nezihe Araz, Meliha Ülker Anbarcıoğlu, Ayten Lermioğlu, Safiye Erol, Meşkûre Sargut, Mehpare Taner, Meliha Tarikahya. Also, Seniha Bedri Göknil and Munevver Ayaşlı contributed by devoting their own houses to the service of Mawlawis.
In 1900s Mawlawi movement shifted from east to west, and continued expanding in the whole world, as well as in the United States. The interest towards Mawlawis in the west is partly due to the research carried out by western women who are fond of Mawlana. In 1970s, in the international conventions in Konya the following women presented their papers, research, studies and translations: Prof. Dr. Annemarie Schimmel (Germany), Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch (France), and Prof. Dr. Anna Masala (Italy). We will always remember these valuable Mawlana researchers with their great work.
As you will all agree, the first name to mention amongst these very valuable women is Annemarie Schimmel with more than eighty books she wrote in addition to the numerous articles she put in writing and the lectures she offered in various universities throughout the world. In the near history, she is considered to be the most productive academician on Tasawwuf. She started by learning Arabic when she was fifteen. She speaks nineteen languages, holds two doctorate degrees and seven honorary doctorate degrees. For many years, she taught philosophy and theology in Harvard University, as well as in many other universities throughout the world including Turkey. With the extraordinary research she conducted, along with the translations and the work she has put in writing, she contributed greatly to Mawlawis to make it widespread across the world.
From 1980s until today, both from Turkey and other countries, many Mawlana lover academician ladies caught our attention with their papers, books and articles they presented at the Konya Ihtifal ceremonies. The female admirers of Mawlana that presented at Konya Mawlana Ihtifal ceremonies and who are almost all academicians are below:
Dr. Müjgan Cumbur
Prof. Dr.İnci Enginün
Prof. Dr. Hasibe Mazıoğlu
Prof .Dr. Saime İnal Savi
Assoc. Prof. Nilgün Açık
Prof. Dr. Gönül Ayan
Prof. Dr. H.Örcün Barışta
Assoc. Prof. A.Necla Pekolcay
Esin Çelebi Bayru
Dr. Nilgün Çelebi
Prof. Dr.Çiçek Derman
Prof. Dr. Emine Yeniterzi
Assoc. Prof. Emine Karpuz
Assoc Prof. Hülya Küçük
In addition to these female academicians that we know through their various scholarly works, we want to mention A. Ülker Erke who has been working to reflect Mawlana through her miniatures since 1960 and also Cemalnur Sargut who we know through her studies on tasawwuf. We also want to mention Timsal Karabekir who opened Kazim Karabekir Cultural Center into service for the lectures of Şefik Can, the last masthnawihan of our time. We remember all these women with great respect and appreciation.
Due to the endless universal love of Mawlana that affected the whole world, there has been a significant increase in the number of women that contribute in the international arena within the last years.
There are women who follow the footsteps of Prof. Dr. Annemarie Schimmel, Eva de Meyerovitch and Prof. Dr. Anna Masala. These women entered the friendship and love circle of Mawlana, with their various works done in different parts of the world, with the books they have written, translations and presentations they have done. These very valuable women are:
Michaela Mihriban Ozelsel
Prof. Dr. Erika Glasen
Prof. Dr. Natalya Prigarina
Prof. Dr. Anna Suvorova
Assoc. Prof. Silvia Tellenbach
Camile Adams Helminski
Anne Regard Cunz
Jenab-i Haqq says: “Under my sky there are such saints that noone knows about, but me.” Therefore, under the sky we live, who knows how many quiet lovers have led a life filled with service for centuries without anyone noticing! Many valuable women whose names we couldn’t mention here live amongst us while many others have passed away. The ones that we remembered and mentioned here today are just a few that we are aware of. We attempted to mention their invaluable service, which cannot be expressed by words. Within the limited pages and minutes we want to remember the names we couldn’t mention here with great appreciation, respect and the ones that passed away we remember with Allah’s mercy and gratitude.